Just eight days after their stunning Super Bowl 51 comeback victory, six New England Patriots players have announced that they will skip any potential visit to see Donald Trump in the White House. Playing hooky from a Trump visit apparently could sour relations between the players and team owner Robert Kraft, who counts Trump among his personal friends.
Kraft has not only repeatedly spoken of his friendship with Trump, the Patriots owner was photographed on Friday at dinner with Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s lavish Mar-A-Lago private country club in Palm Beach, Florida.
Trump’s and Abe’s with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Mar-A-Lago, FL. pic.twitter.com/GWF3BdC2v9
— Michael Delauzon (@MichaelDelauzon) February 11, 2017
But the six Patriots players, so far, who have said they will skip the Trump visit have nothing to worry about, after Kraft on Monday morning gave his okay for players to “do whatever is best.”
Appearing on the Today Show Monday morning, the 75-year-old Kraft — whose personal net worth is estimated at $5.2 billion, rating him 102nd on the Forbes 400 list of the richest individuals in America — downplayed the players plans to skip the White House visit, saying that absences occur every time the team win the Super Bowl.
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) February 13, 2017
“Every time we’ve had the privilege of going to the White House, a dozen of our players don’t go,” Kraft said on the program. “This is the first time it’s gotten any media attention.
“This is America,” the Patriots owner declared. “We’re all free to do whatever is best for us, and we’re just privileged to be in a position of going.”
Reports on a Twitter account claiming to come from inside the White House staff said that Trump was personally “irritated” by the refusal of the six players to visit the White House, and that he planned to “lobby” Kraft to cut them all from the Patriots team.
POTUS irritated that sev. members of Patriots team will not attend WH visit. Saying he will lobby owner to cut them from the team.
— Rogue POTUS Staff (@RoguePOTUSStaff) February 10, 2017
But five of the six players who have said they will not attend — linebacker Dont’a Hightower, running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive lineman Alan Branch, linebacker Chris Long, and tight end Marcellus Bennett — are unrestricted free agents, meaning that it is not up to Kraft to cut them even if he wanted to. They are free to sign new contracts with whichever team makes them the best offers.
The sixth player, seven-time All-Pro safety Devin McCourty, will enter the third year of a five-season, $47.5 million contract in 2017.
A seventh Patriot, running back James White, who scored three touchdowns in the Super Bowl victory over the Atlanta Falcons on February 5, has said that he may also skip the Trump visit. But White said that he has yet to make a decision, and probably will not decide until the visit is imminent.
But the most controversial decision is yet to come from quarterback Tom Brady, whose own friendship with Trump was also the subject of controversy and repeated questioning from the media throughout the season. Trump has frequently praised Brady in speeches and public statements, and Brady has reportedly exchanged phone calls with Trump during the season and leading up to the Super Bowl.
Brady has not yet said whether or not he plans to visit the White House in celebration of the Patriots’ Super Bowl win. The last time the Patriots won the Super Bowl and were invited to the White House by President Barack Obama, Brady missed the visit for reasons that remain unclear.
In fact, Brady told Boston radio station WEEI that he had not received a congratulatory phone call from Trump after the Patriots miraculous, come-from-behind Super Bowl win.
Though a White House visit by the winning Super Bowl team may seem like an American tradition, it was not until 1980 that the NFL championship-winning team ever visited a president. The Pittsburgh Steelers were invited in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter. When Ronald Reagan took the White House the following year, he made a regular practice of honoring the Super Bowl winner with a White House ceremony. The annual visits have remained in place ever since, under the subsequent four presidents before Trump.
[Featured Image by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images]